My Selection — Unaccustomed Earth
When Unaccustomed Earth, a story collection by Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Jhumpa Lahiri was about to be published, Isaac Chotiner of Atlantic magazine interviewed her. He asked 18 questions. Just four of them were about the themes of Unaccustomed Earth, and three of those were about marriage.
Lahiri does have a lot to say about marriage and family, especially immigrant families and their children. But I was struck by her beautiful renderings of the appeal of solitude, and of quiet, absorbing work. Some of Lahiri’s characters, whether married, single, or widowed, cherish their time alone.
In this excerpt from the story, “A Choice of Accommodations,” Amit, a married man, talks about his time away from his wife Megan and daughter Monika:
“Wasn’t it since Monika’s birth that so much of his and Megan’s energy was devoted not to doing things together but devising ways so that each could have some time alone, she taking the girls so that he could go running in the park on her days off, or vice versa, so that she could browse in a bookstore or get her nails done? And wasn’t it terrible, how much he looked forward to those moments, so much so that sometimes even a ride by himself on the subway was the best part of the day? Wasn’t it terrible that after all that work one put into finding a person to spend one’s life with, after making a family with that person, even in spite of missing that person, as Amit missed Megan night after night, that solitude was what one relished most, the only thing that, even in fleeting, diminished doses, kept one sane?”
In “Going Ashore,” Hema, a Latin scholar, is away from her professorship at Wellesley, on a visiting lectureship in Rome. She had been in a romantic relationship with one man, and now was engaged to another in an arranged marriage, but this time in Rome was her own. She is staying in Giovanna’s apartment while Giovanna is away:
“In Rome she savored her isolation, immersed without effort in the silent routine of her days…”
“In the mornings she made espresso and heated up milk and spread jam on squares of packaged toast, and by eight she was at Giovanna’s desk, colonized now by the ferment of Hema’s books, her notebooks…